Shoulders are a tricky body part to train. Since you have three deltoids, most people feel the need to do 2-3 exercises for each one. Not a bad idea if you are a 250lb pro bodybuilder, unfortunately most of us don’t fit into that category. The problem with shoulders is, they are involved in almost every upper body movement and if too much direct work is done to them, you may put yourself at risk of over training, which will hinder muscle gain. When it comes to training shoulders, you want to devise your program just right. Here are a few guidelines I recommend to avoid over training the delts.
Volume and Reps
Volume will be the workload you do in a specific workout. It will include the number of sets you do per exercise. I try to limit my shoulder workout to 4 exercises with a lot of volume, or sets. I will do any where from 3-10 sets on a specific movement. When the sets are low the reps are high, when the sets are high the reps are low. No matter the rep range, always pick a challenging weight. Start with a lot of volume on my first exercise and then the sets decrease as the exercises move on.
Exercise 1 – 6 sets of 5-6 reps
Exercise 2 – 4 sets of 10-12 reps
Exercise 3 – 3 sets of 15 reps
Exercise 4 – 2 sets of 20 reps
The exercises you choose are important, but never more important than the effort you put into them. When you choose shoulder exercises, I recommend trying to avoid a lot of direct isolation work on the front or anterior deltoid because it is small and is involved in every pressing movement, especially the popular bench press. Use a compound or multi-joint movement to target them such as front presses, Arnold presses, and upright rows.
2 of the 4 movements should be compound or multi-joint, and the other 2 should be isolation. I put the compound movements 1st because you hit more muscles and also can handle more weight, which will increase strength. The stronger you are the better. Isolation movements are great for focusing in on a specific muscle, which can greater stimulate the muscles, increasing size. Main isolation movements should be focused on the side or medial, and rear or posterior deltoid. Rear delts are what makes the shoulders appear widest.
Do all movements standing. By doing your movements standing, you can strengthen you postural muscles. Any overhead movement greatly increases core strength and if the body is positioned right it will decrease back pain. All joints should be locked out for safety and to maximize strength.
Standing Barbell Press – 6 sets of 5-6 reps
Barbell Upright Row – 4 sets of 10-12 reps
Standing Lateral Raise – 3 Sets of 12-15 reps
Bent Over Rear Delt Raise – 2 sets of 15-20 reps
Tricks of the Trade (Rest Pause and Running the Rack)
A lot of people are familiar with a drop set, those who are not, it is when you do a set of a given reps and drop the weight and do as many reps you can without rest. Science has shown this method works best when dropping weight by 30% and getting about 6-7 additional reps on the dropped set. I used to be a fan of these until I came across the Rest Pause set in DC or Dogg Crapp Training.
The rest pause is as followed: Do a set till you can no longer get another rep with proper form, put down the weight or hold the weight so there is no tension on it. Take about 15 deep breaths and go again, and get as many reps as you can. I really enjoyed this method because you did not have to drop the weight and look like a little girl struggling with 5lbs. Only problem with this was the 15 deep breaths. I felt it was too long, in that time you should be ready for another set. I read somewhere to do 5 deep breaths and then go. This is much harder and much more effective in my book.
Extreme rest pause is one that I do as well. I will randomly pick a number of reps, and then randomly pick a weight. I pick the reps between 20 and 50, and I pick a weight that I can only get for 10 or 15 reps. This is where it gets tough, do as many as you can, rest, and then 5 deep breaths then force out what you can. You will rest and pause for 5 deep breathes after each time. It should take you about 3-6 sets to actually complete the full amount of reps. One of my personal favorites, I do not do it every workout because it is brutal.
Run the Rack
Running the rack is one of the least scientific approaches to muscle fatigue I have ever heard of or done. People have come up with all different ways to do this. With that being said, it is tough and does work well. How it works is pick an exercise, I generally go with an isolation exercise. Either dumbbell lateral raise, cable rear raises (does not need to be on a rack, it can be run the stack, or run the weight tree, who cares). Do a set of a certain amount of reps, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, whatever you want. Then jump to the next highest weight and go again, you can have no method behind it at all and just go until you can’t anymore, or you can try to put some type of structure to it. For example I do 6’s, I will do a set of 6 all the way up in weight until I can’t do 6 anymore, than go right back down the rack until I get to the weight I started with. You can either start on the lighter side of the stack or rack and go up and then down, or do it in reverse. Your call. If you are the inventor of this method, I apologize for saying there is no science behind it, if I am wrong and you do have some science rationale to it, I would love to hear it. Time under tension is brutal but great. If you are a true man, you will have a lot of that on this method.
Standing Shoulder Press – 5 sets of 6-8 reps, 1 set of Rest Pause *30 reps total
Upright Row – 4 sets of 10-12 reps
Dumbbell Lateral Raise – 2 sets of 15 reps – Run the Rack – 6 reps up and 6 reps down the rack
Bent Over Dumbbell Lateral Raise – 2 sets of 15-20 reps
There you have it, a hardcore, high volume, quick approach to building solid muscle to your shoulders in 4 easy movements. Remember to stick to the basics, lift hard, and be consistent.
Adam Signoretta is a certified personal trainer by the National Academy of Sports Medicine with an extensive knowledge of corrective exercise, performance enhancement and Russian kettleball technique. He is als oan NPC bodybuilder and author of “Be As Strong As You Look – a Handbook for Bodybuilders.” For questions or comments, please contact Adam at Asignoretta@aol.com